2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Carissa Staples, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Carissa Staples

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

Age: 38

“Strategic leader, passionate about maximizing talent, with a love for creating clarity in challenging situations.”

Hometown: Saint Louis Park, MN

Fun fact about yourself: Outside of work, I was a performing arts coach for more than 15 years.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Wisconsin – Stout, B.S. Applied Mathematics and Computer Science

Where are you currently working? Land O’Lakes, Senior IT Manager, Data Management

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I established and led an informal group within our EMBA cohort that brought together the women of the cohort as a way to connect every week to share ideas, discuss current events, and support one another in our learning and professional journeys.

I’m an active mentor in several programs within my organization and community, both informally and informally. My experience has provided opportunities for me to speak publicly about my learnings, to share my experiences and learn from others, and to watch these talented individuals grow in their careers.

Within the agriculture industry, I was a council member for the AgGateway – Feed & Grain Council and an active committee member of the AGIIS Directory Oversight Committee.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of my academic achievements in organizational behavior and change management. I’ve always had a passion for leading change, building teams, and understanding cultures. In the program, I went all in on learning and embraced the course concepts to apply them directly to the work on my teams both at work and school.

In the program, I was able to learn the strategies behind building strong teams, communication, and change management to relate them back to my previous actions. Although I’d been using these capabilities, I’ve been able to center my new learnings to support what I had been doing intuitively in the past. With the combination of experience and training, I’ve been able to confidently identify the need for change management within an organizational transformation and provide a perspective on how to develop a path forward.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Throughout my career, I’ve focused on building experiences that had the highest impacts. My career path has been more of a long set of rotations across functional areas including technology, operations, and business. I’ve strived to always change the trajectory of the talent on teams that I lead or develop. This is something that I’ve seen continued success where I’ve been able to repeat and build upon my previous experiences. I knew I had achieved this when I became known for my successes in developing and empowering talent in teams.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? During my time in the program, I experienced many outstanding educators and I’m grateful for each of their individual perspectives and unique delivery styles. There were two professors who stood out from my experience in the EMBA program: Joe Redden (Marketing) and Helen Moser (Finance). They both had fast-paced delivery of material resulting in an engaging, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding learning experience. Their excitement, as experts, had a significant impact on my ability to apply these important concepts beyond the classroom.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the Carlson EMBA program because of the cohort-based format that offered the unique experience of accelerated learning format with an experienced professional cohort base, international project teams (counterparts in Austria and China), and international residency.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Over the past two years, there was extreme coordination of everything on a daily basis whether I was traveling for work, transitioning into a new role, balancing my EMBA team, or finding time for schoolwork. When I reflect on my time in the program, there was one time that really stood out to me. There was a weekend where I had a solid plan to attend a family event, meet with my EMBA team, and take a final exam. At the time, I thought the coordination of physically moving from location to location and being on time and prepared would be the focal point, but everything shifted when I was pulled into an unexpected work issue.

I had to think quickly and leverage my ability to prioritize and delegate to others to be able to accomplish the overlapping commitments without letting any critical ones drop. From my perspective, I was able to continue to practice these impactful leadership skills and maintain a balance without making sacrifices I may later regret. In the end, I found I was able to effectively juggle my work, family, and academic commitments with the appropriate focus and delegation to achieve these key priorities.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My advice to anyone looking to enter an executive MBA program is to be present, be vulnerable, and “be all in” with the process. The ability to focus and be present with your peers in an immersive setting will accelerate your knowledge. The structure and support of the cohort allows for the chance to try new skills and approaches in a low-risk setting. Finally, the experience will be unlike any other and “being all in” will unlock many ways of getting the most out of your time in the program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? When I started the EMBA program, I knew I wanted to take this time to truly focus on my personal and professional development. Before starting, I set personal goals for myself to fully embrace all opportunities in the program to avoid having regrets in the end. I’m excited to say that I feel I’ve achieved this goal and don’t have any real regrets in business school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Given the unusual circumstances, it is difficult to pick only one person whom I admire the most. I truly admire the individuals in my cohort that I connected and worked the most closely with. I’ve learned so much from each one of them. My EMBA cohort had a significant positive impact on my experience and I thank them for all of their insights and shared experiences.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The main reason I chose the Carlson EMBA program over alternatives was the cohort-based accelerated format. It was important to me to build deep relationships and be surrounded by talented leaders who would challenge me. The cohort of experienced professionals offered the opportunity to develop and lift each other over the course of two years.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term professional goal is to become a COO of a Fortune 500 company.

What made Carissa such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Carissa is a positive force in the program. She exudes energy and support for her courses and her classmates. She generated social connections in her class. Her academic performance was thoughtful and insightful, making strong connections between the material and her role and organization. She helped support a positive learning environment in my course and I always enjoyed reading her assignments as they were well written, insightful, and showed how she put the concepts we explored in the class into real action.”

Mary Zellmer-Bruhn
Professor and Chair of the Department of Work and Organizations

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